The United States Eagles came into this weekend’s World Rugby Sevens Series at Sam Boyd Stadium looking to do something they hadn’t been able to do since 2015 — win a tournament.
Mission accomplished for the Americans, who beat Argentina 28-0 to win the Cup final on Sunday after rallying to win against Fiji in the semifinals. Fiji survived a final scrum and held on to beat South Africa 26-22 for third.
“It’s been a couple of years since we won one,” U.S. coach Mike Friday said. “This shows we’re on the right journey, going in the right direction. It’s the rewards for the fruit they’ve put in.”
Strong showings over the first two days of competition put the Eagles in position when Sunday arrived.
The U.S. posted a 19-7 semifinal victory over Fiji early Sunday afternoon, setting up a showdown with the Argentinians. That ensured the U.S. one of its best tournament finishes since that ‘15 win. The Eagles were second in Singapore last season.
“The guys had to think on their feet,” Friday said. “Tactically, they had to change from the semifinal to the final. The effort was first class.”
The Americans opened the scoring with just under four minutes left in the first half, using the outside speed of Perry Baker to grab the lead.
The Eagles moved the ball across the pitch, finally finding Baker near the left boundary. Baker slipped around the outside defender from Argentina and sprinted back to the middle for the game’s first try. Folau Niua added the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Baker figured in the second U.S. score as well. He spun out of a tackle and found Danny Barrett on a short handoff. Barrett took it in as time expired for a 14-0 halftime lead.
Barrett then put the U.S. ahead 21-0 in the first minute of the second half, snaring a pass with one hand and taking it in from about mid-pitch.
Carlin Isles came off the bench for the final score as time ran out.
“Such a fast start,” Baker said. “We didn’t want to let up. To do this on home soil. It feels so good. And it’s the first time my parents have ever gotten to see me play.”
The U.S. was forced to rally in order to advance in the semifinal.
Facing a 7-0 deficit as the second half began against Fiji, the U.S. quickly evened the score.
Though the Eagles were pinned deep at their own goal line, they swung the ball outside on the left to Baker. The dynamic winger sprinted toward the sideline, made two cuts that left Fijian defenders grasping at air, then sliced back toward the middle of the pitch to make a third defender miss.
From there, it was pure speed to the other end for the Americans first try of the game, and a 7-7 tie.
“My teammates kept telling me to wait on it,” Baker said. “I’d get my chance. We had a bit of a breakdown there on the corner. But I knew this was my chance.”
Later, the U.S. took advantage of a pair of mistakes to take the lead with just more than two minutes left. First, a penalty gave the Eagles a man-advantage. Then pinned deep, Fiji committed a turnover that Matai Leuta turned into the Eagles second try and a 14-7 lead.
Baker added his second score of the semifinal with 29 seconds left.
Argentina reached the final with a try from Renzo Barbier at 8:04 with the clock in the red to beat South Africa 12-10.
USA RUGBY SEVENS
At Sam Boyd Stadium
Samoa 26, Uruguay 12
Spain 19, Russia 17
France 33, Wales 7
Canada 15, Scotland 12
5th place Semifinals
New Zealand 19, England 14
Australia 26, Kenya 21
USA 19, Fiji 7
Argentina 12, South Africa 10
13th Place Playoff
Samoa 28, Spain 7
France 26, Canada 19
5th place Playoff
New Zealand 17, Australia 12
Fiji 26, South Africa 21
USA 28, Argentina 0